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Agenda Item No

 

The Vale of Glamorgan Council

 

Cabinet Meeting: 10 February, 2014

 

Report of the Leader

 

Webcasting Update/Draft Protocol

 

Purpose of the Report

1.         To update Members on progress regarding the piloting of webcasting and to consider a draft protocol setting out proposed arrangements covering the piloting exercise, together with any future webcasting of meetings.

Recommendations

1.         That the draft webcasting protocol attached as Appendix A to the report be approved for use during the piloting of webcasting in February / March 2014 and for any future webcast meetings, should the Council decide to progress more regular webcasting of meetings.

2.         That any decision to webcast future meetings be made following the conclusion of, and an assessment of, the pilot exercise.

Reasons for the Recommendations

1.         To ensure an appropriate protocol for webcasting is in place.

2.         To enable an informed decision to be made.

Background

2.         Members will be aware from previous reports that the Welsh Government made available a grant of £40,000 to local authorities this financial year to assist in the development of webcasting and remote attendance at Council meetings.  As part of the terms of accepting the grant, the Council is required to pilot, prior to the end of the financial year, webcasting of a small number of meetings.

3.         In providing the new microphone system, the suppliers were asked to provide the video cameras and associated software to ensure that they were compatible with the microphone system.

4.         A separate audio / visual room had been created as part of the Council Chamber refurbishment, which can host the equipment and allow for a technician to monitor the equipment and its correct functioning.  Resources will need to be identified to attend meetings (including, obviously, the piloting exercise) to operate the equipment and provide technical assistance should there be problems with the hardware.  Officers have also been considering the most cost effective method of streaming the video footage through the Council’s website.

5.         It is envisaged that members of the public would access the webcasts through the Council’s website and work has progressed with the suppliers of the system to ensure that the links to the website will be properly configured and that appropriate staff are properly trained in its use.

6.         The grant from Welsh Government covered the cost of procurement of the system.   However, total costs for the associated web streaming and bandwidth requirements if the system was to be used effectively are not yet known. The bandwidth required to deliver the webcast depends on the number of individuals who want to view the meeting online at the same time and this is an unknown quantity at present and may well grow over time if the Council adopts webcasting and it becomes more popular with the general public.

7.         Ongoing annual costs to fund the support and maintenance of the webcasting system were not provided as part of the grant so additional funding will need to be found in future years if the Council continues to use webcasting. 

8.         Reference has been made to the fact that an archived webcast of a meeting would provide a much more comprehensive account (i.e. verbatim) of proceedings compared to the manner in which the Council’s minutes are currently produced.  Acknowledging that this would, indeed, be the case, the Head of Democratic Services at a recent meeting of the Democratic Services Committee reiterated comments contained in previous correspondence to Members regarding the rationale behind the existing style of minutes.  He stated that there would be no change to the Council’s “house styleâ€, albeit a webcast version of certain meetings would also be accessible.  It should be noted that webcasting does not replace the formal record of the meeting and the decisions made.  The only formal record comprises the Council's minutes and agendas.

Relevant Issues and Options

9.         Many Councils already webcast Council meetings and other public committee meetings and their protocols have been taken into account in preparing the draft version attached as Appendix A.  It is considered prudent to have a protocol agreed in advance of the piloting of webcasting during February / March 2014.  Members will also need to have regard to the Council's Member Code of Conduct during meetings (as is the case now).  In order to inform the process, a couple of internal "dry runs" will take place prior to the pilot exercise itself.  In addition, officers are considering the extent to which "training" should be made available to Members in advance of the pilot exercise.

10.      In terms of how the webcasting process will work, it is important to understand that the webcast is to be provided from fixed camera installations which are generally linked to the sound system, with set camera positions for each individual microphone.  As the microphone becomes live the appropriate camera view is shown.  No editing or adjustments are made.  The video simply records and broadcasts the speakers as the meeting progresses.

11.      As the camera operation is fully automated there is no requirement for protocols relating to filming or editing the webcasts. However, most Councils have developed protocols relating to a number of other issues related to the running / conduct of the meeting.

12.      The Head of Democratic Services will liaise with the Communications Manager in order to ensure that the meeting to be "piloted" will be publicised in advance (e.g. via the press and the Council's website).

13.      An assessment will need to be undertaken of the piloting exercise.  In the light of that assessment, Members will need to determine the Council's future approach to webcasting.  For example, it may be considered that a trial period should then ensue involving the webcasting of certain meetings.  A useful filter for determining whether meetings should be broadcast is, obviously, the potential level of public interest.  Typically, webcasts in other authorities have been most viewed when items being discussed are either contentious and/or involve a significant degree of public feeling (whether for, or against, a particular proposal).  Indeed, this is generally the case regarding physical attendance of the public at meetings.

Resource Implications (Financial and Employment)

14.      There are no direct implications as a result of the report.  However, consideration will need to be given to the ongoing resourcing / staffing implications of any decision to webcast future meetings on a regular / ongoing basis.  As indicated earlier in the report, there will be resource implications in terms of identifying appropriate officers to operate the equipment, ensure the webcasting itself functions and to deal with any technical issues arising at meetings.  The potential benefits of reaching a wider audience will need to be balanced against the costs of setting up and maintaining a webcasting system and in light of the anticipated numbers of viewers likely to be attracted to the facility (which may, on occasions, be limited).  Issues such as potential Welsh translation facilities will also need to be taken into account.

Sustainability and Climate Change Implications

15.      There are no direct implications as a result of the report.

Legal Implications (to Include Human Rights Implications)

16.      The drawing up of a draft protocol reflects the need for the Council to take account of any Data protection and Human Rights implications.  The Council's Constitution will require the incorporation of a section covering webcasting and the related protocol.  

Crime and Disorder Implications

17.      There are no direct implications arising from the report.

Equal Opportunities Implications (to include Welsh Language issues)

18.      Webcasting can benefit people with disabilities and other parts of the community who may be unable to attend meetings, but who, through this medium, may be able to access the proceedings.

Corporate/Service Objectives

19.      Webcasting of Council meetings can contribute to promoting local democracy and increasing community engagement by increasing citizens’ awareness of the democratic process.

Policy Framework and Budget

20.      Any changes to the Council's Constitution required will be reported to the Constitution Working Party / Cabinet / Council as appropriate.

Consultation (including Ward Member Consultation)

21.      This is an internal matter and no consultation, therefore, has been undertaken.

Relevant Scrutiny Committee

22.      Corporate Resources.

Background Papers

Local Government (Wales) Measure 2011 and associated guidance

Letter from Welsh Government : 28th January 2013

 

Contact Officer

Jeff Wyatt

Head of Democratic Services Tel (01446) 709408

 

Officers Consulted

Managing Director

Monitoring Officer

Head of Strategic ICT

Operational Manager (Property)

Operational Manager (Corporate Policy and Communications)

Communications Manager

 

 

Responsible Officer:

Siân Davies

Managing Director

 

 

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